Indirect GHG Impacts of Biofuels Policies

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Given the global nature of the market for agricultural commodities, global agricultural models are required to measure the indirect GHG implications of biofuels. The results of selected models are now reviewed. A study of impacts of US corn-based ethanol production found that, instead of generating 20 percent savings in GHG emissions, it nearly doubles them over a 30-year period. Forest and grassland conversion that released large quantities of GHGs was accelerated by the higher crop prices. Brazilian sugarcane ethanol is credited with high direct savings of GHGs because bagasse, the waste product of crushing, is used to fuel the process. Nevertheless, GHGs will increase if Brazilian ranchers displaced by sugarcane convert more forest to pasture (Searchinger et al., 2008). Another global study by Fargione et al. (2008) showed how carbon debts were incurred by the clearing of rainforests, peatlands, savannahs or grasslands to produce biofuel crops in Brazil, south-east Asia and the US. The CO2e releases were 17 to 240 times more than the annual reductions that these biofuels would provide by displacing fossil fuels. Edwards (2008) concluded that emissions from the production of palm oil induced by the EU's biofuels policy can negate all of the EU's GHG reductions from biofuels.

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